Lisa Steele is a chicken keeper, aspiring herbalist and author of the popular books ‘Fresh Eggs Daily: Raising Happy, Healthy Chickens…Naturally‘, ‘Duck Eggs Daily: Raising Happy, Healthy Ducks…Naturally’and Gardening with Chickens due out in December. Her writing can also been found on her blog ‘Fresh Eggs Daily’, which was named one of the Top Ten Best Gardening Blogs by Better Homes & Gardens magazine. She regularly contributes to Chickens, Backyard Poultry and Hobby Farm magazines as well as HGTVGardens.com. She has appeared on P. Allen Smith’s radio show and PBS television show and the new reality show Coop Dreams. In her spare time she enjoys cooking with delicious eggs fresh from her coop and vegetables fresh from her garden. You can find her blog at www.fresheggsdaily.com and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/
Chicken manure is one of the best sources of nitrogen and other nutrients for your garden, but that high nitrogen level means that fresh feces is “hot” and can burn young plants and roots if you apply it to your garden without allowing it to age. In addition, fresh manure can harbor pathogens such a salmonella, E.coli and other diseases, so it’s best to let the manure sit for at least three months – and preferably six months – before applying it to your garden.
In addition to the manure, the coop litter – whether it be straw or shavings – is also great organic matter that your garden will love, so when you clean out your coop, rake or shovel the soiled bedding into a pile to compost for several months. If you already have a compost pile, you can add to your existing bin, otherwise, a pile out back will suffice. The pile should be turned over periodically like any compost to introduce oxygen to it, but if you situate it where your chickens can find it, they’ll love to help you with that effort, especially if you also toss kitchen or garden scraps into the pile.
A good compost pile includes both green matter which is high in nitrogen (grass clippings, food scraps and of course the chicken manure) and brown matter which is high in carbon (shavings, straw, dried leaves). Generally, a ratio of three to one – three times brown matter to green matter – is optimal, so if all you compost is what you clean out of your coop, you should be fine. However, if you are adding kitchen scraps to your compost pile and your chickens eat them all, that’s okay too, that just means more chicken poop to compost later!
Nearly everything that comes out of your kitchen is compostable, except dairy products and fish or meat scraps. Although you can compost coffee grounds and tea bags, if you are allowing your chickens access to the compost pile, I would skip that and discard them instead since both can be detrimental to your flock’s health.
In the fall when you clean out your coop prior to the onslaught of the cold weather, dump the litter and chicken manure right onto your garden. Rake it over the garden plot so it’s several inches thick. The litter will act as mulch to keep weeds down until you’re ready to plant. Come spring turn over the soil, incorporating the decomposed straw/shavings into the ground as your organic matter for the garden. This will have given the manure enough time to cool down so it won’t harm your plants.
Through the spring and summer when you clean your coop add the bedding to your compost pile to let it age a bit, then that can also be used on your garden plot come fall after your final harvest.